To understand auto immune diseases it helps to have a basic understanding of the immune system itself.
The immune system is the protective mechanism for the body and is highly complicated. There are basically two parts to it. The first is the purely physical, being the barriers such as the skin or mucous membranes or the chemical, such as the acids in the stomach which destroy bacteria.
Should this level of defence fail, which it does for any number of reasons, then the body’s next level of defence will kick in.
When a body is invaded, for the first time, let’s say by kennel cough, once the body has realised there is an invader a series of reactions will take place which will ultimately kill off the virus. However, this does not happen immediately as it takes time for the body to recognise the invader and symptoms for the illness will occur. Once the invader is destroyed, the body switches off the immune reaction. Should the kennel cough return later the immune response will be much quicker as the cells responsible will recognise the invader and react more quickly.
However it is important that the body recognises the difference between itself and the invader, so it only attacks the invader. To allow this to happen, the dog’s cells have their own set of molecules on their surface, which the immune system recognises. The invader, on the other hand, has a different set, called antigens, which the immune system recognises as different, and which, when recognised, will cause the immune system to launch an attack on the invader, whilst not attacking its own cells.
It is essential that both the recognition and discrimination parts are working properly for the immune system to function as it should. Usually it works well but sometimes it goes wrong, either by overreacting or not reacting at all and sometimes it reacts to its own body cells and this is called autoimmunity.
Click on the following link for a more detailed description of the immune system.
There are a number of auto immune diseases, of which some are detailed below. As far as we know there are no statistics available for auto immune diseases in Irish Setters but it is believed the incidence is very low. However, it is useful to be aware of them as prompt diagnosis and treatment can make all the difference.
It is generally accepted that auto immune disease is highly complex and there will probably not be one single factor involved. Whilst a litter may have the predisposition to auto immune disease, through its genes, it may never manifest itself, or different littermates may develop different auto immune diseases. There is a highly complex relationship between the genetics, which in itself is not simple as it is believed that several genes are involved, and the environment, possibly including stress, vaccinations and other variables.
It is accepted by many people that there is a genetic factor and therefore it is recommended that should a dog or bitch have an auto immune disease it should not be used for breeding and, ideally, parents of dogs which develop auto immune diseases should not be breed from again. If your Irish Setter is diagnosed with an autoimmune disease then let a breed club know as well as your breeder.
If you are concerned about auto-immune disease or have an Irish Setter that has been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease the following maybe helpful to you.
Jo Tucker had a Bearded Collie who had an auto immune disease and as a result she became very interested in auto immune diseases and wanted to help others who found themselves in the same situation as herself.
She set up CIMDA (Canine Immune Mediated Disease Awareness) for all owners of any dog that has been diagnosed with an Auto-immune condition or for owners who believe their dog might have an autoimmune disease. CIMDA offers help, advice and support to those owners and Jo is very knowledgeable. She is always willing to help and her expertise and guidance has helped to ensure a speedy diagnosis and correct treatment.
Addison’s Disease -hypoadrenocorticism
Addison's disease is so called because it was Thomas Addison who identified it in the 1800’s. The adrenal glands produce the hormones cortisol and aldosterone which are needed for different functions in the body. One of cortisol’s main functions is to help the body respond to stress while aldosterone helps to maintain the balance of salt and water in the body which is vital for the functioning of the kidneys. In Addison’s disease the adrenal glands are damaged and cannot produce enough hormones.
- fatigue – not wanting to exercise
- muscle weakness
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- vomiting and /or diarrhea
- increased thirst leading to having to urinate during the night
- bitches might miss seasons
- Because the symptoms are gradual and often vague they can often go unnoticed and make it difficult for a vet to diagnose it easily. If it not diagnosed early then an Addisonian crisis may occur.This could begin with vomiting and diarrhea, followed by collapse and maybe even a coma and the dog needs immediate veterinary treatment.
Autoimmune haemolytic anaemia
There are a number of reasons why your dog may be anaemic and AIHA is only one reason, and an unusual one at that. Anaemia occurs when there are low numbers of blood cells, which contain haemoglobin which carries oxygen around the body. Haemolytic anaemia occurs when there is a destruction of the red blood cells and the body cannot keep up with reproducing new blood cells. This is when symptoms may be seen. Usually the signs are slow and gradual and you may not be aware that your Setter has a problem until it collapses.
Signs to look for are:·
- an increase in heart rate
- increased breathing
- Not wanting to go out on exercise or to play
- Sleeping a lot or lying around a lot when they are normally active
- loss of appetite
- pale mucous membranes. It is very easy to see if the gums are pale, they should be a good pink colour and not pale or white.
- jaundice, which can be seen by yellow gums or eyes
Thrombocytes are the cells which are responsible for making the blood clot and Immune-mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP) is the destruction of these cells.
- excessive bleeding after an accident or operation
- excessive bleeding when a bitch is in season
- petechiae-very smalls specks of blood on the skin
- blood in the urine or stools
Before ITP can be diagnosed other more common diseases must be ruled out. These could include hemophilia or Warfarin poisoning. (Warfarin is used as a bait to control rats)The site linked below lists the different autoimmune disease, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.